Alt Text and Habituation

I’ve been trying to consistently put alt text on images here on my blog.

I don’t, if you’re curious. I mean I didn’t. I have, for basically two months now, been trying to comprehensively add alt text to things. If you go back to just November last year, I think you might find images just don’t have alt text.

A part of this was bad advice, from the actual system for adding alt text. If you check the media library for wordpress, it includes a note about alt text that says something to the effect of ‘if this image is not necessary for the article, don’t put alt text.’ And I thought that yeah, actually, largely, my images aren’t. That doesn’t excuse the times I show cards, or make the image the subject of the paragraph, and certainly not the times I just dump a graph in there, but the bad advice made me think by default I didn’t need to do it, so I wouldn’t do it.

The other thing was I just didn’t think of it. It was a habit I didn’t have. And honestly, there are a lot of habits that add a few seconds to things that you can think maybe are easy to do, but you had to build those habits. Using Mastodon regularly on and posting on cohost. My daily magic cards became part of it – I think it might have been a whole year of typing out alt text every day that got me in that habit. But I was only doing that because I had an image I wanted to post every day in the form of my custom magic posts, and those I could determine an alt text for them very easily.

That meant the habit got built a little at a time and a lot of the alt text I use now is stuff like ‘an icon of a thing.’ Sometimes I take to giving the vibe of an image. Sometimes I’ve tried making a joke.

Understand that with this habit came a lot of discouragement. The way people talk about alt text on mastodon makes me not post pictures there aside from the once-a-day custom magic card. The kind of people who get very mad about alt text and accessibility features enough to yell at me, a stranger, about it, are the kind of people I read once, then mute because I can’t address structural concerns while they yell at me about them and all I can do is my best. Haranguing strangers doesn’t help me build the habit. The environment is volatile, and honestly, kind of cruel about alt text. It’s not enough to post it, you have to do it right, and you can’t discuss its limitations or difficulties without being attacked.

Consider: If the only way to do alt text would be to go back through my blog of ten years and have to alt text everything as the first thing I did, it’d never happen. It just wouldn’t! There’s an enormous archive that doesn’t necessarily load reliably, it’s a huge pain in the ass and probably a full time job’s worth of work for some time to go do that, and with no practice at alt text, it’d probably look bad and be unhelpful. Taking the current (bad) situation and making it overwhelmingly hard to make it not much better is not helpful.

I want to build better habits, I want to do a better job of the things I do. I don’t avoid alt text because I want the internet to be a worse experience for people who use screen readers.

You build good habits a day at a time but part of that means that there’s got to be a version of the habit you can do every day.

It’s now been a month or two of dedicatedly doing it, and I’m writing about it now because one of the biggest hurdles in the whole process was alt-texting all 380+ cards for my daily Magic: The Gathering custom cards. This was a single huge task, but it was also a new task. It presented to me a puzzle, and I had to find a way to solve it that worked. I’m just going to list what I did, roughly, and show you what it took to get that project set up, and then what that led to.

That was not a small task! I’m glad I did it, I feel good about having done it, but wew lord it was not easy! And now, bonus, to complicate it further? If I want to edit a card – or worse a handful of cards – I have to delete that file, upload a new version, then go through and replace all the times that card gets referenced!

This is a big task, but doing it made all smaller permutations feel easier. Alt text feels easier to remember because hey: I don’t have to do that again.

1 Comment

  1. @updates @Talen_Lee I love this part: “I want to build better habits, I want to do a better job of the things I do. I don’t avoid alt text because I want the internet to be a worse experience for people who use screen readers.”

    I also learned alt text here. I’m not sure I’ve experienced the same scolding as you as you’re using pretty strong language about it, but I know enough about here to know everyone’s here is their own. I’ve been lucky to have a) good role models who write beautiful alt text b) exceptionally tactful advice from people who need alt text.

    I think you’re right, we can learn to do it (and quietly teach doing it, in the day job).

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